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Leadership Lesson from Denver Broncos Loss – Fear of Failure Leads to Failure

Leadership Lesson from Denver Broncos Loss – Fear of Failure Leads to Failure

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I am a Denver Broncos fan. This season has been extraordinary. I am disappointed to be using the “past tense” as the Denver Broncos just lost a riveting game to the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens played well, and they played with enough heart and skill to deserve to win most games.

The problem is – the Denver Broncos never should have let the Ravens get that close! Believe me, I want to rant about the poor referee calls (pass interference led to a pick-6 against the Broncos and a phantom pass interference kept a late Ravens drive alive). But one of my judo coaches had great wisdom for that situation: Never leave the competition outcome to the discretion of a judge/referee – because they will often get it wrong! Instead, focus on how you can impact the outcome in your favor.

  • The Denver Broncos have one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game: Peyton Manning.
  • They have two big and physical 1000+ yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker to headline a crop of sure-handed and prolific receivers.
  • Peyton Manning leads the league in 3rd down conversion percentage this year and has a season quarterback rating of 105.8.
  • They have one of the most feared pass rush tandems in Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.

Yet head coach John Fox set aside all of those weapons and ran on obvious passing downs in this playoff game. He also went into a prevent defense by only rushing three defenders on the last Ravens offensive series in regulation.

With a 35-28 lead at the at the 3:12 mark, the Broncos ran 5 consecutive times – even in the obvious passing downs of 2nd-and-8 and 3rd-and-7. They then punted the ball and went into a prevent defense rushing only 3 defenders and leaving 8 defenders in pass protection with 1:08 remaining in the game. This defused Miller and Dumervil, and it only took one receiver getting behind the Broncos secondary with the worst possible result: a game-tying touchdown. With 31 seconds left, and two timeouts, the Broncos did the ultra-conservative move of kneeling on the ball versus trying to drive down the field for a field goal. Even in overtime, with the 2-minute General Peyton Manning, they ran the ball 7 out of 13 times. Peyton ultimately threw an interception in Broncos territory, and rookie kicker Justin Tucker made a field goal to win the game for the Ravens.

The Denver Broncos went away from their weapons, and they played with a conservative fear of losing!

Hall of Fame coach John Madden once said “the only thing the prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.” Whether you are playing a football game, or leading an organization, making decisions to prevent failure may make you most likely to succeed – in failing! We’ve all seen organizations let fear creep into their decision-making process even after a history of success. Why?? Why do we go away from our strengths, the “what got you here”, and think the outcome will be success?

Let this inexplicable Denver Broncos loss serve as an object lesson for all of us: Play to your strengths, trust in your teammates and your employees, and stick with the game plan that brings you success. 

Photo Credit: Untitled by paulmgardner, on Flickr

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and grandsons! My career has blessed me to the point I was able to start a new consultancy in 2018: Analytic Integrity. I look to provide analytic experience, and business integrity, to an Analytics world while helping data-driven organizations mature. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin.

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  1. Brian, I don’t disagree with anything you said. As bitter a pill as this is for all of us fans to swallow, I imagine it has to be much worse for Fox, Manning, and the entire Broncos organization. C.S. Lewis said of experience, “That most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” I’m quite sure after Coach Fox’s latest “brutal” coaching lesson, he’ll be less conservative in similar situations in the future.

    • Good point, Steve. I might have 1-2 more Leadership posts coming out of this loss…if I can get some time to write them this week. Even Fox’s ultra-conservative approach would not have lost that game if the Broncos played fundamentals in the 4th quarter, and made one adaptation as early as the 1st quarter.

      How’s that tennis game? I’ve been playing a weekly drill on Mondays, so I’m not going to be “10 years rusty” when league rolls around this year!


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